CATWOE Model and Business Ethics

CATWOE Model and Business Ethics

Before you make a decision, implement a change, or introduce a new system, I’m sure you keep the five “E’s” in mind:

Efficiency (will it work at all?)

Efficiency (will it work with minimal resources?)

Effectiveness (does it contribute to the company?)

Ethics or ethics (is it morally right?)

Elegance (is it beautiful?)

Let’s talk a bit about the fourth “E” – Ethics.

There is an ethical dimension to every decision.

Every time a human being or entity intervenes in the life of another human being or entity, directly or indirectly, an ethical situation arises.

There is a story, probably apocryphal, that illustrates this.

There was a cyclonic storm and millions of fish were washed ashore and struggling to survive on the beach. A man came to the beach and patiently began to pick up the fish, one by one, and throw them back into the sea. An amused passerby asked what difference he would make, to which the man pointed to the fish in his hand and said, “Ask this fish?”

Thus, we see that apparently routine decisions, which at the organizational level do not seem to have a greater ethical magnitude, have great ethical significance at the individual level.

Some people believe that ethics is of little importance to business people. “Ethics is ethics” and “Business is business”, they say. Therefore, many upwardly mobile managers today tend to rationalize when faced with an ethical dilemma and take the position that they must wear multiple ethical hats and cover themselves with three separate conflicting codes of ethics:

A code applicable to the professional or technical aspects of your work (Professional or Technical Ethics);

Another code for your business behavior (Business Ethics);

And a third code of ethics for his personal life (Personal Ethics).

This leads to the development of a schizophrenic ethical personality in which the individual may strive for professional excellence and high ethical standards for himself and within the organization, but resorts to unethical practices to succeed in business at all costs.

This approach of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is at the center of many ethical dilemmas in managerial decision making.

Every person, entity, group, institution, or constituency likely to be affected by the decision is a “stakeholder” with a moral claim on the decision maker.

This stakeholder concept provides a systematic way of perceiving and resolving the various interests involved in our ethical decision making.

There is an ethical dimension to every decision. Therefore, any of your decisions, which affect other people, have ethical implications, and virtually all of your important decisions reflect your sensitivity and commitment to ethics.

In short, as you carry out your work at your workplace, you must analyze and determine various ethical dimensions when dealing with your superiors, peers, subordinates, customers, and all other stakeholders related to your work.

Different stakeholders have different ethical perspectives.

For example, take the case of workplace romance.

While some organizations [and stakeholders] they may feel there is nothing ethically wrong with workplace romance and many even encourage organizational romance/marriage between colleagues by granting various benefits/incentives, some others may discourage or even ban workplace romance. Of course, sexual harassment would be universally considered unethical.

A useful technique for resolving such ethical dilemmas is the CATWOE model adapted from Systems Management.

The ethical dilemma occurs because of the mismatch in the ethical perspectives of various stakeholders involved in the ethical situation.

A CATWOE analysis helps the manager identify all the stakeholders involved in a decision and their respective ethical perspectives.

CATWOE is an acronym to categorize various stakeholders:








To elaborate a bit:

C: The ‘system clients’. In this context, ‘clients’ means those who are on the receiving end of whatever the system does. Is it clear from your definition of “C” who will win or lose from your decision?

A: The ‘actors’, that is, those who would actually carry out the activities foreseen in the theoretical system that is being defined.

T: The ‘transformation process’. What does the system do with the inputs to turn them into outputs?

W: Weltanschauung – The ‘world view’ behind the root definition. Placing the system in its broader context can highlight the consequences of the system as a whole. For example, the system may exist to help make the world more environmentally safe, and the consequences of system failure could be significant pollution.

Or: The ‘owner(s)’, that is, those who have enough formal power over the system to prevent its existence if they wanted to (although they usually wouldn’t want to).

E: The ‘environmental restrictions’. These include such things as ethical limits, regulations, financial restrictions, resource limitations, limits set by terms of reference, etc.


All decisions must take into account and reflect a concern for the interest and well-being of all interested parties.

Ethical values ​​and principles always take precedence over unethical and unethical values ​​and principles.

It is ethically correct to violate one ethical principle only when it is clearly necessary to promote another true ethical principle that, according to the conscience of the decision maker, will produce the greatest balance of good in the long run.



1 Identify and classify the stakeholders in the situation using CATWOE and understand their ethical perspectives

2 Identify your dominant ethical perspectives

3 Build a network of ethical conflicts, mapping different ethical perspectives [CATWOE – six nodes]

4 Identify those threads in the network where significant conflict cannot be assumed to exist. These can be removed from the ethical decision-making model.

5 Focus on those threads where there is conflict. Using conflict resolution techniques to achieve the “general good” for the system

Ethical decision making involves the process by which a person evaluates and chooses among alternatives in a manner consistent with their core ethical principles or values.

Therefore, when you make an ethical decision, you:

(a) Perceive and eliminate unethical choices

(b) Select the best of several competing ethical alternatives.

Ethical decision making requires more than a belief in the importance of ethics. It also requires sensitivity to perceive the ethical implications of your decisions; the ability to assess complex, ambiguous and incomplete facts and the ability to implement ethical decision making without jeopardizing your career.

Ethical decision making requires three things: Ethical Commitment, Ethical Awareness, and Ethical Competence.

The CATWOE model will help you in Decision Management – in improving the Ethical aspect of your business, professional and personal decisions.


Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

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